Everyone jaywalks, but statistics show that Black pedestrians are stopped and ticketed for this crime at dramatically higher rates than people of other races.This is why a new bill in Sacramento, known as the Freedom to Walk Act (AB 1238), aims to decriminalize jaywalking in the state of California. Despite some criticism on the side of law enforcement officials who warn it could result in more dangerous roads, the bill has been highly praised by criminal justice advocates and seems likely to be passed soon.
Update: While this law was passed in the California state legislature, it was vetoed by governor Newsom, who stated that he believed it would result in more deadly pedestrian/vehicular accidents.
What AB 1238 Does
As the law stands right now, it is illegal to cross a street at an intersection without using a crosswalk. It is also illegal to cross at an intersection going towards a red light or a red hand. While the fine for jaywalking is technically only $20, once court fees and other fees are tacked on, the ticket ends up costing nearly $200.
AB 1238 makes it so crossing outside of a crosswalk or failing to obey traffic signals would be legal as long as there is no “immediate hazard.” An immediate hazard is defined as when a vehicle is so near or approaching so fast that a careful person would realize there is a danger. In other words, crossing the street in front of an oncoming car would still be a crime because it’s dangerous, but crossing on a red light or in the middle of the street would be legal if no cars are coming.
The law would remain in place through 2029, giving officials plenty of time to compile data on the effectiveness and safety issues related to the legislation before they determine if it should be put in place permanently or revoked.
Why Change the Law?
First off, jaywalking laws have been shown to not actually improve the safety of roads. Studies show that ticketing people for jaywalking has not reduced traffic fatalities. Recklessly crossing the street with cars coming will still against the law, but there is no reason people should not be able to cross when no cars are coming.
The fact that so many people jaywalk is also an indication that local infrastructure is not well-designed for pedestrians. In many areas in both major cities and rural areas, pedestrians may need to walk a quarter of a mile or more just to find an acceptable crosswalk to use. Having jaywalking laws in place can actually discourage people from walking, which is detrimental to both the environment and the overall public health.
And both because of police biases and the simple fact that poor infrastructure is more common in low-income neighborhoods, jaywalking tickets are more frequently issued to African Americans than any other race. LAist found that the LAPD issued 32% of all jaywalking tickets to Black people, despite the fact that they made up only 9% of the area’s total population.
The problem with these tickets is not just a matter of it being unfair that low income people are disproportionately being asked to pay $200 tickets. It’s also problematic to have already over-policed populations be subjected to pointless pretext stops that provide police an opportunity to fish for additional reasons to search or arrest a person of color.
Even if they do not result in additional charges or a search of personal property, these stops result in increased tensions between minorities and police officers. In some cases, they can even result in injuries or death if a person attempts to fight back against what they see as an unjustified attempt to investigate them for a minor infraction. In that way, eliminating jaywalking laws can actually make the state as a whole safer.
The History of Jaywalking Laws
As it turns out, jaywalking laws were never actually created to help keep pedestrians safe, but were created to help the auto industry put blame for accidents between vehicles and pedestrians on people who were walking, rather than the drivers. Even the term “jaywalking” comes from the word “jay,” an early 20th century insult for an empty-headed idiot -an easy way to make a pedestrian involved in an auto accident seem like a dumb meanderer rather than a victim.
Interestingly, America’s jaywalking laws have changed little since they were first enacted about a century ago. The fact that a pedestrian was jaywalking can even be used in liability cases to argue that the victim deserves a smaller reward because they were being reckless -even if the accident was entirely the driver’s fault.
You Still Have Rights
Remember that even before this law is passed and put into effect, simply jaywalking is not sufficient grounds to arrest someone or search their possessions. If your rights were violated and a police lacked reasonable suspicion to detain you beyond the time it takes to write a ticket, it is critical you bring this up to your lawyer.
This is yet another reason it is important to work with the right attorney when you have been charged with any crime. Peter M. Liss has 35 years experience and he can help you no matter what your situation. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation.